American and multilateral efforts to sanction North Korea into submission won’t work because there are too many ways around them, Ri Jong Ho says.
He should know. For about three decades, Ri was a top moneymaker for the Kim regime, sending millions of dollars a year back to Pyongyang even as round after round of sanctions was imposed to try to punish North Korea for its nuclear defiance.
Ri said North Korea has repeatedly found ways to circumvent whatever sanctions are imposed on it. “North Korea is a 100 percent state enterprise, so these companies just change their names the day after they’re sanctioned,” he said. “That way the company continues, but with a different name than the one on the sanctions list.”
Ri’s Chinese counterparts weren’t bothered, either, he said. “My partners in China also want to make a profit, so they don’t care much about sanctions,” he said. “When the Chinese government orders them to stop, they stop for a few days and then start up again.”
He described being able to send millions of U.S. dollars to North Korea simply by handing a bag of cash to the captain of a ship leaving from the Chinese port city of Dalian, where he was based, to the North Korean port of Nampo, or by giving it to someone to take on the train across the border. In first the nine months of 2014 alone, Ri said he sent about $10 million to Pyongyang this way.
For more than two decades, the United States has been trying to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, alternating between inducements and punishments. In both cases, American policy has relied on China, North Korea’s erstwhile patron, using its economic power over its cash-strapped neighbor. But Beijing’s implementation of sanctions, even those it backed through the United Nations, has been patchy at best. China’s overwhelming priority is ensuring stability in North Korea.
China’s interest in North Korea is well known, but Russia’s role in supporting the former Soviet client state is often overlooked. Amid calls for China to limit oil exports to North Korea, Russia has dramatically increased the amount of oil it has sent–some reports suggest exports have quadrupled–to North Korea this year.
“Unless China, Russia and the United States cooperate fully to sanction North Korea, it will be impossible to hurt them,” Ri said. Continue reading